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Exercises for Seniors in Wheelchairs

If you are age 65 or older and use a wheelchair, exercise may not be as front of mind as it used to be. As people age, there is a tendency to become more sedentary, which can affect the muscles and joint flexibility of seniors putting them at risk for falls and injury. With mobility, it is a choice of “use it or lose it.” The old saying “a body in motion stays in motion” is very true.

Why Exercise is Important

When your overall activity levels decline, your health becomes at-risk. Inactivity combined with a high-calorie diet can lead to obesity, heart disease and other health-related conditions. Exercise is important for seniors to stay active and maintain their independence. The benefits of exercise for seniors are many:

The Benefits of Exercise

  • Improves your muscle strength and reduces bone loss
  • Improves mobility for walking and standing
  • Maintains the physical ability to perform favorite activities
  • Maintains or improves balance, reduces the risks of falls
  • Helps prevent diseases like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoporosis 
  • Improves mood and general well-being, which is important for avoiding feelings of isolation and depression that seniors often feel when their activity levels decrease
  • Increased circulation sends nutrients to the brain, which helps with memory and cognitive function
  • Helps strengthen the immune system so the body can fight off illness and infection better

Seated Exercises for Seniors

1. Seated Toe Touches- Stretch both legs out in front of you and place your feet on the floor. Bending from the waist, lean forward and reach towards your toes and flexing ankles. Don’t worry if you can’t reach all the way; just do the best you can. 

2. Overhead Stretch- Sit with your back straight and raise both arms over your head and clasp your fingers together. Take a deep breath and slowly bend to the left and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat with the other side. Move slowly and don’t hold the stretch if it causes pain.

3. Weight Training– Working with 3- to 5-pound dumb bells, raise one arm straight up while keeping the other at shoulder height. Switch to the other arm, raise it and lower the other. Repeat this 10 to 15 times.  

4. Leg Lifts- Raise one leg in front of you at a 45-degree angle. Lower the leg and raise the opposite leg.  Alternate raising and lowering each leg 10 to 15 times. Variation:  raise both legs out in front of you. Raise and lower slowly. Repeat this exercise 10 times or until you get tired.

5. Play Ball– Get a medium to large plastic or inflatable ball and invite a friend to work out with you. There are many types of games you can play with a ball. Throw it back and forth in a game of catch or make a hoop out of an empty wastebasket for a game of wheelchair basketball. 


*You’re only limited by your imagination. The more fun an activity is, the more likely you are to continue it, so be creative.

* Check with your physician before beginning any type of exercise program. If you take medications for blood pressure or diabetes, he or she may need to monitor your condition to adjust your medication.

* Start slowly at first and increase time gradually to avoid sore muscles. Go at your own pace and do each exercise to the best of your ability. 

It’s never too late to start exercising, and it doesn’t require a lot of time. Ten to fifteen minutes of stretching and cardio exercises goes a long way to improving your health and mobility

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